Student-made Support Wellbeing

On feeling like an impostor

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‘Humans have a super power and that super power is our ability to convince ourselves that something is true when it’s not’

Phil McKinney (2018)

Our minds are powerful tools, we use them everyday, but sometimes our most powerful tool can be our own worst enemy. As the quote above describes, we have a superpower, a superpower that can make us believe we don’t deserve what we have achieved in life or that we somehow only got to where we are based on luck. This feeling is also known as Impostor Syndrome and 75% of us will feel like this at some point in our lives and, according to research, women and PhD students are more susceptible to feeling like this.

So don’t worry if you have felt doubt in starting your PhD; you’re not alone! Back in September I was feeling like this, having completed my masters in September I suddenly found myself subsumed in my PhD. Feeling a bit inexperienced and alien to the unstructured life of a PhD, I began to doubt myself and feel as if I had only managed to where I was based on luck.

Looking back, I realise now that I felt like an impostor and if you have felt like this or are feeling like this currently, don’t worry because I have some advice for you.

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Acknowledge the feeling

The first step is to realise you are doubting yourself and talk to someone about it. Talking to someone will make you realise how illogical the thoughts are and they will (hopefully) reinforce to you that thoughts are false.

You can’t know everything

Impostor Syndrome derives from perfectionism. We might feel as if we should be like Janet off ‘The Good Place’ and be able to answer every question that someone asks us in our subject area, but this is impossible at the start of the PhD process and so we end up feeling like an impostor when we can’t answer a question straight away.


A friend who has just finished his PhD gave me some excellent advice; you can’t know everything straight away. Although it might seem obvious, it is important to clarify this. There is a reason you have three years to complete a PhD, it’s a ‘journey’, a learning experience; learn to enjoy it rather than worry about not knowing all the answers straight away and you will become more confident in yourself.

Stop comparing

It is so important to not compare yourself with others. Your PhD experience will always be different to other students even if you’re working in the same subject area. By comparing, you’re letting yourself believe that your work is somehow inferior. Focus on your own work, life is far more enjoyable if you don’t compare. 

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Self-doubt leads to self-sabotage

The more you let those thoughts grow the worse the impact. Don’t let your own self-doubt be your downfall. It is common for those feeling like an impostor to end up procrastinating to the extent that they then fail at their task, which then validates the feeling that you were never meant to start the task in the first place. Don’t let your superpower be the means to your failure.

why would life do this

Finally, have confidence. Luck might have been a factor in achieving your funding, but it certainly was not the only one.